The Extraordinary Story Of The Woman Who Overcame A Brain Haemorrhage To Build A Multi-Million Pound Business

Most of us have fought hard for our careers – we’ve studied, toiled, and worked long hours in order to be able to do something we love for a living.

But few have fought harder for their careers than Karen Kirby, Business Development and Policy Director at Indbuild. Karen is an ambassador for the organisation everywoman, who champion the advancement of
women in business, by providing tools, resources and support to help
them succeed. She set up the steelwork, cladding and rainscreen company back in 1998, and in 2013, won the Hera Award in the NatWest everywoman Awards – which is given to female business owners who are 50 and over.

However, it wasn’t always plain sailing. In fact, in 2008, Karen’s world as
she knew it was utterly rocked, when she suffered a terrifying brain haemorrhage.

And she admitted that despite the devastating turn of events, her business career gave her all the confidence she needed to carry on. She said, “Early in my career my confidence suffered occasionally, particularly when I was talked over in meetings.

“But later, during my recovery, I couldn’t speak properly – and I can still struggle now especially when my brain is tired – but if someone interrupts me or takes over the conversation I now have the confidence to speak up.” – a valuable lesson.”

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So how did her recovery go? Karen maintains that following her health scare, she’s more motivated than ever before. She said, “I always felt blessed that my “motivation” cells weren’t damaged too much following the haemorrhage! Motivation is an important skill; something to be nurtured; a gift to be used.

She’s even inspired others, saying “The self-preservation I demonstrated following my illness encourages others too; recently a male member of staff sent me an email to say how much I motivated him, which made my day.”

This isn’t the only hardship Karen has faced during her career. She revealed that during the 2009-2010 recession, her company was hit hard – facing cutbacks and a rejigging of the working system. She said, “We were facing staff redundancies, but I refused to accept that we should do this.”

What was her solution for solving the problem? Karen said, “I felt we had to get all our staff involved in the process by asking them what they could do to help save their jobs and to help Indbuild through this hard period, which was effecting construction generally. It was agreed that we would all share the pain; we set up a rota system of a four-day and three-day alternative working week – unpaid for the days off and paid fully for the days working.”

Was it a success? “This went on for five months (we originally thought it would be a lot longer) but it was amazing how every single person signed up for this – some even came in unpaid on the days they weren’t allocated to. We grew so much stronger from this and all staff felt empowered that they could be involved in helping the business through the process. We didn’t lose one member of staff but we gained strength as a team.”

(Image credit: ©The Times)

As a result, Indbuild is going from strength to strength. So did Karen’s life experiences change her? Talking about her current work-life balance (ah, that all-elusive idea), the businesswoman agreed that she’s far more committed to taking time for herself now – something we should all do a bit more of.

She said, “I usually wake between 4.30 and 5.30 a.m. The first thing I do is meditate. It’s my magic time where creativity flows. Then I drink a lot of water, do some stretching and silently move through the house getting housework done.

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“Afterwards I like to spend some time learning something new (at the moment it’s the guitar). I also do some brain-training online; it’s a must for me as my brain is not so well and every little bit of stimulation is magic.”

Now, the business is a huge success. They’ve
scored deals in the region of £1 million, and Karen is a renowned businesswoman in the construction industry – something she knows hasn’t come easily – or naturally. But it’s something that winning her award with everywoman has helped her to overcome.

She said, “Construction is a very male-dominated world, and while I love it, I have sometimes not been taken seriously and found my decisions, opinions or even suggestions met with raised eyebrows. The everywoman award changed all that. I believe women, just like men, can do anything they put their minds, hearts and souls into.”